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Record levels of arsenic still in groundwater on Pine Island Flatlands Preserve

August 1, 2018
By ED FRANKS ( , Pine Island Eagle

In the most recent report, Lee County is still finding the chemical arsenic at record levels in groundwater on Pine Island Flatlands Preserve.

The property is a Lee County Conservation 20/20 preserve of 920 acres located about 5 miles south of the Center in St. James City. Arsenic was first detected there in February 2012.

The preserve serves as a spray field for the Pine Island Wastewater Treatment Facility. Wastewater is treated and then sprayed into a non-public part of the preserve. Groundwater wells were installed to monitor the effluent sprayed on the preserve.

Article Photos

One of the fenced-in well sites on the Pine Island Flatlands Preserve property.


Results from the June 2018 report by Kimley Horn stated, "During the third quarter sampling event, in August 2017, a significant spike in arsenic concentration was identified in MW-2 (Well #2). As such, a confirmation sample was collected in October 2017, which confirmed the significant increase."

The report goes on to state, "arsenic appears to be limited to the area around MW-2, and does not appear to have the potential to impact the one private water well located within a 1/4-mile radius of the site."

Between 2012 and 2016, test results revealed higher than normal arsenic levels in effluent and groundwater at the preserve.

The elevated arsenic levels came to light in 2016 when the Conservation 20/20 Citizen Advisory Committee member began reviewing records from effluent and groundwater testing between 2011 and 2016.

"I was reviewing the old records of the effluent and groundwater test results when I saw the spike in the effluent from 2012," Greg Rawl, a member of the Citizen Advisory Committee, said. "The effluent is only tested once a year but I believe the test result was at the end of the slug (load). This means it's likely the arsenic had, for the most part, been sprayed into the field."

The tests between 2011 and 2016 showed effluent water samples jumped from an average MCL (maximum contaminant level) of 2.5 ug/l to 12.3 ug/l. The acceptable MCL level for arsenic in drinking water is 10.0 ug/l. But the groundwater samples in 2013 and 2014 surpassed the 100 ug/l "alarm" level established by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

EFFLUENT(ug/l)GROUNDWATER (ug/l) (Peak-Well #5)
20112.541.6 revised 2017
20152.2140.700 monitoring was stopped in 2015

(Pine Island Waste Water Treatment Plant / Ground Water Management Plan results)

Lee County Government Communica-tions Director Betsy Clayton recently acknowledged the high arsenic levels in 2012 but stated "the years after that the arsenic levels were below 10."

While this is true for the effluent arsenic levels, the arsenic levels in the groundwater reached levels many times higher than the standard for drinking water and when levels reach 100 ug/l the county is required to report this to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

This January Lee County submitted the results of the soil sampling to Florida Department of Environmental Protection seeking guidance for closure options. FDEP recommended three additional monitoring wells be installed at the site to further evaluate the impact on groundwater.

In new groundwater tests conducted May 21 shows arsenic levels at 300 ug/l 30 times the "safe" level for drinking water. A second test was done and the 300 ug/l level was confirmed.

The cause of the elevated arsenic is unknown but the June report raises the possibility of arsenic treated wooden fence posts around one of the wells. It is believed "the fence enclosure was installed around 2011/2012, when the first arsenic impacts were observed."

"At that time (September 2017), we were unsure of the cause," Clayton responded. "That's why the county had committed to working with the DEP, hiring the vendor, sinking new wells and monitoring. Now as you know from seeing the report we just provided you (June 26, 2018 Site Assessment Report) we are working with DEP to move forward on the recommendations made in the report to address the potential cause, which may be the fence post issue."

"The problem with the fence posts as a source of the arsenic, is it doesn't explain the high arsenic levels reported two miles away in Island Acres," Calusa Water Keeper John Cassani said.

"Also if you look at the effluent (2012), it's a smoking gun," Cassanni said. "The arsenic showed up in the well water shortly after the effluent was dropped. If the source of the arsenic shows up first in the effluent and then the groundwater, it doesn't take a hydrogeologist to figure out the source of the arsenic is in the effluent."

"Lee County has dealt with the arsenic contamination they spread on Flatwoods by first hiring a company to blame it on cows and then shutting down the monitoring wells that were showing high levels of arsenic," island resident Scott Wilkinson said. "When the media broke the story, Lee County reduced the certified arsenic levels by a factor of 1,000. With the levels too high and the cow theory not panning out, Lee County is now trying to blame the arsenic on a single mysterious fence post and claims they don't need to clean up this hazardous waste. This is another example of why the Greater Pine Island Community cannot trust Lee County Government to represent our best interests."

Wilkinson is also a Greater Pine Island Civic Association board member.



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